Ricky Rudd tried to stop racing last year but he couldn't do it. At the end of this season, the Ironman will try once again to walk away from the sport he helped build.
"I wasn't sure if I was ready to retire at the end of '05 or not. I took a year off and I ended up coming back. It's clear to me what I want to do now. I've enjoyed the sport, but it's time for me to do something different. It's time for me to step aside."
The difference between this year and last year? Rudd is actually using the word 'retirement'.
"I think using the word 'retirement' would be the right thing to do, and it would be a rare situation that I would come back," he said. "So I think 'retirement' would be the proper way to list me for next year. Retired."
Rudd got behind the wheel of a Nextel Cup car for the first time when he was 19. Now nearing 51, he says the grueling 38 race schedule is too much for him.
"When I started, there were 26 Cup races," Rudd reminisces. "On Monday through Thursday, you could do whatever you chose to do. Obviously, the sport isn't like that today.
"To run this schedule week-in and week-out, week-in and week-out, it's more demanding than it used to be. I think it's really a young guy's sport. I'm not willing to make the sacrifices for that full-time schedule anymore."
His recent performance must be taking a toll on him, as well. Coming into this year, Rudd had 23 career wins, 375 career top 10s and a lifetime average finish of 16.2. This year, he has no wins, an average finish of 25.8 and just one top 10.
"I've always been motivated by good performance," Rudd said. "You have a really good performance, and that's kind of a reward, and all of a sudden the travel schedule is not quite so bad or the demands on your time aren't so bad.
"We really haven't had those [performances] this year. ... But when I came back over here, this team had sort of hit rock bottom, and it was in a rebuilding process. It's coming along slowly, but it's coming along."
Rudd says the only way he would consider racing after this year is if it were on Mark Martin's terms: You race when you want to.
"I've heard mention in the past of taking, like, three senior guys, or maybe two senior guys and a rookie. If that was with the right situation where you weren't committed to running an entire schedule, you can kind of pick and choose your own races, and, again, it was a team that would be running for the full year, I would take a look at that. But I'm not out looking for a job right now, and I don't see that happening, to be honest with you."
So what's next for the Ironman?
"I guess I'm going to be a little bit lazy for a while," he says.
Fair enough seeing as how the guy once started 788 races in a row, a NASCAR record.
"After that, I don't really know what the future holds."
Rudd says he has already turned down offers from ESPN that would have him covering NASCAR Busch Series races and frequenting SportsCenter.
"I looked at it, and it had its interest, but the time commitment was more so than as a Cup driver," Rudd said. "These TV guys, you do a lot of research to do your job right."
Wherever Rudd winds up, you can guarantee he won't be far away from the race track.
Reminiscing on his illustrious career, Rudd remembers the lows
"I had won one race in 1983 and got to drive for Bud Moore in 1984. We got wrecked in the Bud Shootout and it was close to being one of those career-ending accidents."
... and the highs.
"I was very fortunate to be able to come back the next weekend at win at Richmond. That one there was neat, because I had some dizziness and equilibrium problems and to be able to come back and win was one of those extremes on the emotion spectrum."
Rudd got his first win in 1983 behind the wheel of a car owned by one of his former competitors, Richard Childress.
"In those days, they didn't have TV cables long enough to reach Victory Lane so our Victory Lane was out on pit road somewhere," Rudd remembers. "Times have changed."
Eight years later, that same number 3 car, piloted then by Dale Earnhardt, edged him out for the 1991 Winston Cup.
Even though he will go down in history as one of the greatest of all time, Rudd remains as modest as ever.
"Just as a guy that always has given 120 percent, won a few races and came close to a championship once or twice," he said when asked how he wants to be remembered. "I entered the sport with nothing when drivers weren't making anything. The financial rewards are there now, but it reaches a point where it isn't worth the time away from home."
If you got the opportunity to see Ricky Rudd race when he was in his prime, consider yourself lucky. You were seeing something special.
Enjoy the time off, Ricky. You've more than earned it.